Gabe Reynaud

Gabriel Reynaud was born in Hanoi, French Indo-China (now Vietnam), the son of French colonial parents in 1953. After moving to France in 1955, the family moved again, to Australia, in 1958. We lived on a small New England farm, an experience that gave Gabe a permanent love of the bush. In 1966, the family moved to the then Avondale University, where Gabe completed his secondary and began his tertiary education, in education.

My brother demonstrated his artistic leanings from an early age—Mum proudly kept pictures he had drawn as a child. His drawing, painting, photography and writing showed promise. He also enjoyed history, literature, philosophy, theology—and music, playing cornet and trombone in the Avondale Brass Band. Gabe excelled at power sports. He inspired as a teacher. None of these things captured his imagination, though.

He read the first half of more books than I could count, usually half a dozen at a time. It seemed only one thing baffled Gabe: he could not understand people with talent who did not use it.

Gabe found his niche in film—and his subsidiary talents all found an expression through it. He thought in pictures.

He sold Dad his Nikon camera to buy his first super 8 video camera and began experimenting, filling all the roles. He soon learnt he was more impressive behind than in front of the lens.

His commitment to film: almost obsessive. He spent all his money on making films and dropped out of Avondale several times to earn more or to apply to enrol in film school. And this came at a time in Seventh-day Adventist culture when Adventists did not associate or engage with the movies. I remember being asked several times, when people learnt Gabe directed films, “Is he still an Adventist?”

Gabe got his break in 1979, becoming one of 24 selected from hundreds of applicants for a place in the Australian Film and Television School, then one of four selected to study directing. He became the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s first professionally trained director.

Like many young filmmakers, Gabe thought he could change the world through film. He gradually came to understand the best role of filmmaking in a Christian context. In his own words, his work presented life in its extreme complexity, even where there were “sometimes no obvious, rational answers. And this is how it should be, for if there is no mystery left in life, there is no longer the motivation to explore and discover.”

After graduating, Gabe worked in television then as a freelance director. Work was far from steady and he had long periods of frustrating unemployment. He made many programs for the Adventist Church, including Keepers of the Flame, The Search, Digging Up the Past and Chasing Utopia. He hired some luminaries before they became stars. Russell Crowe’s first paid acting role in film was as a student in a promotional film for theology at Avondale. Gabe also used Geoffrey Rush in one production. His films won a number of international awards.

He was not always easy to work with. He wanted to make quality Christian films, but his ambition and lack of diplomacy did not always sit well with church administrators, wary of arty types. He pushed hard for a new approach to media, moving from static talking heads to exploiting the full power of a visual medium, which is hard to sell to a Logos-centred denomination.

One of his film school colleagues says of him: “For 20 years Gabe made films for independent producers and the Adventist Church. They were always good films with something worth saying, well crafted and technically superb. He was a powerful man to be near. He gave all: his energy; his passion; his commitment to the truth. He possessed in the most genuine way an unconditional love for his family, his friends and his work. He didn’t love life, he was mad about it.” Another friend says: “One week with Gabe was the equivalent of 80 years of ordinary life. He was genetically programed to perform ideas.”

As Gabe matured, he developed a better working relationship with the Adventist Church and extended his creative wings. He eventually became senior producer at the then Adventist Media Centre and pioneered a filmmaking unit at Avondale.

Gabe died in September 2000 in a motorbike accident the day after returning from seven weeks filming in Italy and the United States on Chasing Utopia.

Gabe’s vision: for the church to recognise the power of art, not to preach so much as to say what a sermon may struggle to reveal about God—to testify to His wonder and awe and mystery; and for artists to use their talents in all genres to testify to a God who is the embodiment of creativity.

His proudest achievement: incorporating many creative talents into his productions. Gabe’s role in nurturing and mentoring creativity, often from the kind of artists who ordinarily would have had no place in the church, gave him enormous satisfaction.

So, it is appropriate that an award that recognises and encourages the creative arts in ministry is named in honour of Gabe, because he saw that as his greatest accomplishment.

Professor Daniel Reynaud
Avondale University